This weekend marked another unforgettable birthday adventure thanks to the support from a lot of friends. Huge congratulations to Tim and Katie on their incredible first 50 miler! Here's my account of how Pikes Ultra: The Stank went down:
(Photo: Tim Bergsten & pikespeaksports.us)
After an unsuccessful afternoon of forced napping on Friday, I loaded my duffel bag of clothes, a box of calories, and a cooler of fluids and made my way to Barr trailhead. Brian, who had spent the afternoon searching for a vuvuzela to start the run, was already there to wish us good luck. More folks including Carson, Tim and Katie, Tim B, Rocque, and a couple from Ruxton avenue began trickling in to offer the same well wishes. There was nervous chit chat about weather conditions as the windchill forecast was 5 degrees below. At the bottom though, things were still mild. How bad could it be?
Lap 1: "I'm definitely out of my comfort zone"
Jeff, Jay, and I took the first steps on Barr trail with the intention of 4 Pikes Peak roundtrips with Tom joining us for a Double. The pace was comfortable and we were well on our way to Barr Camp before head lamps were needed. As we passed the camp, we made the shift from running to hiking and temperatures began to drop with the falling snow.
At the 3 miles to go sign, we paused to add layers in anticipation of the upcoming exposure. As we marched in single file behind Jeff, a light from another hiker above us and "Go CRUD" scribbled in the dirt below served as a reminder that Muzzy was also doing a night trip. With patches of snow and ice covering the trail, the first ascent was completed in a very solid 3:38. Jeff and Tom huddled outside the corner of the vacant Summit House for a bit while I snapped a picture at the designated turnaround sign. Not wanting to linger, I made my way down quickly as I could. Though to that point I had been able to maintain a reasonable amount of body temperature, the cold began to creep in and the ache in my hands became nauseating. I was definitely out of my comfort zone and thinking purely of survival.
A chilly summit #1
Fortunately, Jeff soon caught up as we made our way back to the shelter of the trees. My outlook on life improved with my increasing core temperature. At some point before Barr Camp, I heard Jeff take a spill. After making sure he was OK, I made a point to consider the placement of my steps very carefully. We'd stick together for a little while longer but soon it became apparent that Jeff had dropped off pace a bit. Unsure if he was making a wardrobe change or waiting for the others, I decided to continue heeding gravity's pull down the mountain.
Lap 2: "If I had known it was going to be this hard, I wouldn't have done it!"
In planning this event, I didn't have firm plans for pacers or support. While friendly faces would help immensely, I realized that enduring the wee hours of the morning in extreme temperatures was asking a lot. In spite of this, the list of loyal gestures from my friends began to grow as Scott was there at the W's to escort me down. At the very bottom, I was greeted again by Brian who had returned for the second time. I told him how it went and admitted, "If I knew it was going to be this hard, I wouldn't have done it!"
After refilling my water and grabbing a couple more EFS flasks and nut butters, Scott and I made our way back up the mountain. We began to wonder aloud the condition and whereabouts of the others, when we came across Jeff, Tom, and Muzzy working their way down. Apparently Jeff's tumble was worse than he had thought. He had a swollen knee and his night was over. Behind him, Tom's face echoed what I had been trying to suppress- that the experience a couple hours ago was so incredibly miserable and the thought of doing that again in the dark was absolutely unbearable. A couple minutes later, Jay revealed that he too had made the decision of any sane and reasonable person. One brush with hypothermia was enough. And, had it not been for the escort by Scott, I'm certain I would have followed suit. But, a little company provided me with just enough false courage to press on so we continued to race the moon.
Though he had fresh legs, Scott too began feeling the effects of the frigid air with concerns over quad cramping. The winds picked up and we candidly discussed contingency plans, ultimately deciding to re-evaluate things at Barr Camp. The threat of toppling Aspens in 65 mph gusts soon rivaled concern for frostbite. Conditions were now worse somehow than what was hardly bearable hours before. It became clear that neither Scott or I would be going any further. Disappointed, I struggled with my next course of action. I wasn't ready to throw in the towel just yet but a solo night trip in these conditions was not practical. Scott advised me to not get discouraged and to remain hopeful. So, after he left for the trailhead, I tried to get some rest in the Barr Camp bano and start fresh in the daylight. I rigged the door as best I could to keep it from swinging open, cut out the lights and curled into a tight fetal position on the ground. After experimenting with all variations of hand positions to try to stay warm, I finally settled in, only to realize that the hydration pack I was using as a pillow was leaking. I now found myself lying in a freezing puddle water. Crap! Stumbling, I made my way to the opposite corner and tried passing out again. What little sleep I experienced was unsatisfying and after 2.5 hours of uncontrollable shivering, I realized that staying there any longer was not helpful.
Not one of my most dignified moments
I exited the loo and made my way through Barr Camp as the sun, as well as the overnight guests, were still sleeping. Reaching the trail junction, I paused momentarily. If I took a right, 6 miles later I'd find myself freezing at 14,000 ft again. Take a left and in about the same distance, I'd find my car, and soon after, a warm bed. I could slink away and say I gave it my best shot. No one would blame me for calling it after the way things unfolded last night. Besides, spending over 2 hours in the bathroom for shelter was not conducive to a sub 30 hour finish. One and a half trips up Pikes was already further than I'd ever gone before. This was an easy decision, and so I began walking down.
As my legs and mind began to wake, it became apparent that my present course of action just didn't feel right. If I continued, I'd soon run into Tim and Katie who would start their Double at 6 am. What would I say to them? Why exactly was I quitting? Though cold, I felt OK physically. If I told them I was done, I couldn't imagine how disheartening that would be for them. It was Tim's birthday celebration too and he was just as excited about this as I was. As I thought more about it, I realized it wasn't out of pride or machismo that I decided couldn't quit. It just felt like terminating the adventure was something foreign, something I couldn't identify with. I was already half way up Pikes. I should try to make at least one more trip.
As I about-faced, I once again found myself marching towards the summit. Despite moving uphill, I was still sleepy and cold. The sun would rise soon and I decided to wait for it's company before going any further. Somewhere between Barr Camp and A-Frame, I crouched into a ball and placed my head on my knees to rest my eyes. Some brief amount of time passed before I was startled from my slumber as a shirtless runner came whistling up the trail. Still bundled in two jackets, I wondered what the night had done to my perception of temperature. I stared, disoriented at Eli from Boulder and mumbled something that he nor I understood. He said hello, pressed on, and I followed slowly behind.
Above treeline, the crimson sun transformed the once earthly landscape to Martian. It was absolutely beautiful.
Prolonged shivering throughout the night took a lot out of my legs and made climbing to the desolate summit more arduous than usual. Exhausted, I was relieved to have finally arrived.
Summit #2: Are we having fun yet?
On the way down, I encountered a handful of supporters including Fred Baxter and his friend, Tess, and of course Tim and Katie. To each of these folks, I admitted that this was going to be my last trip. I was still sulking about the previous night and couldn't find a reason to do two more round trips. Towards the bottom, I ran into Neal and Teresa (who were on their way up to train the new caretakers) and Carson. We chatted for a bit while I snacked on the bacon that Carson had carried for 3 miles. The first real food in 15 hours was delicious!
Lap 3: "I have nothing else planned today. I might as well keep doing this"
Carson followed me down to the car where Brian (his third time now), was waiting with Amy. I told them of my lack of motivation but my friends would listen to none of my excuses. Carson and Brian offered to run with me a ways and Amy was scheming for Kelly meet me at the top. Still disappointed that things hadn't played out the way I envisioned, Kelly advised me over the phone to forget about the finishing time. Suddenly, the personality of this experience shifted. No longer was about comparisons, or pride, or ego, or whatever else was getting in the way. It was simply about enjoyment. Besides, "I have nothing else planned today. I might as well keep doing this!"
Support from Carson and Brian
So, as Carson and Brian led me up past the W's, I relished their company and found a new perspective. After they turned back, the miles passed quicker and I found myself at treeline for the third time. Though in a better place mentally, the toll of rarified air was heavy. I felt my heart working exceptionally hard to maintain even a modest stagger. Despite the hoards of people, when I arrived at 14,000 ft, I was relieved the Summit House was open for the first and only time of this endeavor. I walked through the doors and greeted Kelly with an exhausted hug. Filling her in on the last 20 hours, we decided we had a shot at getting to the bottom before sunset.
Summit #3: A tourist among tourists
Quite certain that she was trying to drop me, the trip down with Kelly was somehow the fastest yet. We cruised so quickly that even the ache in my knees could not keep up. Along the way, we crossed paths with Tim and Katie who offered me some bacon rice. It made me so happy to see them in such great spirits for their final trip. Once at the bottom, Tim B and Paul greeted us just as the sun was setting. While a part of me found it hard to tell them that I was not done and still had one more trip to make, they didn't seem to care and were unbelievably encouraging.
Lap 4: "This looks like a great place for hantavirus"
Before embarking on the last 24ish miles in the dark, Kelly convinced me that a meal and supplemental cold weather gear would make the final stretch more enjoyable. What was going to be a simple trip to the grocery store evolved into an additional stop at Starbucks and ultimately, a trip back at the house to heat up some soup. By the time we ate, gathered hand warmers, and layered with more clothes, nearly two hours had passed. Needless to say, the thought of venturing out into the cold night again was a tough pill to swallow. After weighing the pros and cons though, we decided to at least start the final trip and to reassess along the way.
Fortunately, the extra provisions in the name of warmth worked and the trip to Barr Camp was relatively pleasant. We joked about spending the night at the Bathroom Hotel but ultimately chose to press on. Before A-Frame, we saw the lights of Tim and Katie dancing between the trees. Once closer, their faces relayed a sense of exasperation and they advised that though mild now, conditions above treeline were once again quite nasty.
As we continued, Kelly began to point out deficiencies in my coordination. I was becoming increasingly fatigued and could no longer hide it. With eyes crossing and eyelids drooping, the acuity of my focus began to suffer. After a meager attempt to rest under a rock overhang proved useless, we realized that making it to A-Frame was the wisest course of action. Upon arriving at the 3 walled shelter, we found that it was vacant aside from some tattered sleeping bags and a worn out mattress. Even though we most certainly shared our accommodations with a small army of mice, the views made the timberline suite quite the upgrade from the bathroom floor. The winds above us howled "NONE SHALL PASS," and we resigned to finish the trip after the sun came up."This looks like a great place for hantavirus!"
After a couple hours of rest, the warmth of daylight almost instantaneously dissolved the strength of the winds and we continued along the final uphill miles. Though the trail was still a bit precarious from the overnight freeze, I took comfort in acknowledging that this was the victory lap. Time didn't matter. Enjoyment did.
Along the way down, slow and careful navigation turned to gliding once again as warming temperatures offered improving trail conditions. We paused briefly at Barr Camp to let Neal and Teresa know we made it safely before continuing through the avenue of golden Aspen.
Just before reaching my final destination, I was once again embraced by the love of many wonderful friends. Dan with Charlie Brown, Amy, Neil, Harsha, Ella, and Tim B were all there to celebrate. After 41 hours and 47 minutes, it was finally over!
The run took longer than I expected but I believe the story I have to tell is far greater than I could have ever imagined. Each person along the way played an essential role in the journey's success and this has translated to a more profound appreciation of the power of small deeds. The help, kindness, positive energy from so many people has left me with an unrelenting and permeating sense of satisfaction. THANK YOU!